Anton Khudobin wants to be the Carolina Hurricanes’ top goalie this season, but only after competing against Cam Ward in training camp and winning the job.
Khudobin isn’t claiming the No. 1 spot in net, even if his goaltending numbers were decidedly better than Ward’s last season. Nor, he said this week, did he make that claim after Russia won the IIHF World Championship in May.
In an interview that appeared on a Russian web site, Khudobin was asked if he emerged as the Canes’ top goalie last season because of his play or an injury to Ward. His comment, as translated, was in part:
“It’s hard to say what was more important, if it was Ward’s injury or my game. But probably my game, because even if Ward wouldn’t get injured and I wouldn’t play that way, they wouldn’t play me that often. So, maybe it was all this put together.”
Khudobin, who returned to Raleigh this week for informal workouts, said he never meant to imply he had supplanted Ward, a Stanley Cup winner with the Canes in 2006 who has played more than 500 regular-season and playoff games for Carolina.
“You never heard me say that last year, you never heard me say that after the season,” Khudobin said. “So why would I say that in the summer time?
“Somebody asked me, like, did you feel that you were No. 1 because of your game or because of Cam’s injury? Maybe (it) was just the timing, when Cam got hurt and I came in, so I played more and more. It’s not because he got hurt or I am just the No. 1. I never say that. I never say it with any team, that I am No. 1.”
Khudobin, 28, signed as a free agent with the Hurricanes in the summer of 2013, presumably to be Ward’s backup. He was sharp in his first few starts early in the season, only to suffer an ankle injury Oct. 13 that kept him out of the lineup almost three months.
The Canes’ problems were compounded Oct. 24 when Ward went out with a groin injury. He returned in mid-November, but a recurrence of the injury in early January kept him out until late-February, after the NHL’s Olympic break.
By then, Khudobin was playing at his best. He won 10 games in January, when he was named the NHL’s first star of the month.
Khudobin finished the season with a 19-14-1 record and 2.30 goals-against average in 36 games, and his .926 save percentage set a franchise record. Ward, in contrast, appeared in 30 games and had a 10-12-6 record, with a 3.06 GAA and .898 save percentage.
Khudobin signed a two-year, $4.5 million contract extension with the Canes on March 4. He left immediately after the season to join the Russian national team for the 2014 World Championship in Minsk, Belarus, earning a gold medal and receiving a new luxury car courtesy of Russian president Vladimir Putin.
“A little busy summer but it was fun,” he said, smiling.
While Khudobin was away, the Canes were undergoing change. Ron Francis was promoted to general manager. Francis fired Kirk Muller as coach and hired Bill Peters. David Marcoux was named the Canes’ goaltending coach.
And despite speculation Ward might be traded, he was seated next to Khudobin Thursday in the Canes’ locker room at RCI.
“He knows what kind of relationship we have,” Khudobin said. “I’m happy we are still both on the same team. We had a good relationship last year and we were partners. We were pushing each other, and that’s most important.”
The Canes’ training camp begins Sept. 18. They play the first of seven preseason games Sept. 21 against the Columbus Blue Jackets – enough exhibitions to pick a No. 1 goalie.
“If whoever is in the net is winning hockey games that’s what best for the team,” Ward said.
Peters has said he’s like to have a clear-cut No. 1 goalie, someone who could be relied on for 60-plus starts. That remains to be seen, to be determined.
“You have to have competition and you never know,” Khudobin said. “You always have to prove that.”